Inside The Adult Group Getaway Industry
Congratulations! You have successfully survived the holidays!
Now, what you need is a vacation.
Even if you love the holidays, they aren’t exactly restful and rejuvenating. They’re hectic and devoid of downtime. You may have even had to — shudder — fly with holiday travelers grumbling about weather and their families, all running late for reasons they swear are beyond their control.
Perhaps fortuitously, I landed at the open relationship and lifestyle site Life on the Swingset’s annual adult getaway: “The Swingset Takes Over Desire.” Having consumed The Swingset’s podcasts and blog from time to time, I knew I could trust founder/host Cooper Beckett to be inclusive and open — and to choose a travel agency wisely. So, I poked around The Swingset’s 2016 trip and their coordinator/agent Jim Wert’s nude and lifestyle getaway trips at the website for Char Travel.
As I perused the “lifestyle cruises,” clothing-optional resorts, clothing-free resorts, couples vacations, and themed trips, I couldn’t help but wonder: who exactly goes on an “au natural getaway?”
I asked Wert if he could illuminate. “Well, the primary market is adults, mostly married, between the ages of 35 and 55. Far more than half have children out of the house already,” a friendly, but initially all-business Wert explained.
So, basically, a cross-section of the people who have disposable income and the impulse to travel.
“The variety of people is pretty stunning to me,” Beckett said of The Swingset’s yearly getaway. “We actively seek bi males, sexually fluid people, and those in varying relationship styles — swing, poly, etc. The barrier to entry is that it’s definitely an expensive trip, but otherwise the variety is awesome. Age too! We had from 23 to 76 on this last trip.”
Some of the resorts are in locations that are less welcoming to the queer community, so not every vacation opportunity is available to gay, bi, and pansexual men. Consequently, more open groups like Beckett’s purposely promote the inclusion of those often left out.
“I went on a trip and the resort was amazing; I wanted to spend as much time there as possible,” said Beckett. “I thought I could put together something unique that invited and encouraged diversity that’s often missing in swinging [groups].”
Beckett’s is one that only allows couples and triads to foster an atmosphere of trust — something that I understand even as a solo poly person who doesn’t always have a travel partner.
“Single males are a difficult problem in non-monogamy because so many of them have behaved badly,” Beckett explained. “So people like Desire [the resort The Swingset uses] because it doesn’t allow for single men. It also doesn’t allow single women, who are prized in non-monogamy, but that’s a trade-off.”
We paused to have our #NotAllMen moment — an important one for Beckett, who is bi and all about consent: “Not all single males are bad, of course, just a whole lot of them are.”
Char Travel has single-friendly resorts and trips on their roster, including Hedonism in Jamaica. After 12 years in business, Wert is very much in touch with his clientele and directs newcomers to the trip and/or group that’s best suited to their needs and wants. In fact, he would rather turn down business than book someone on a trip they won’t enjoy — or that could be detrimental to a relationship.
“We do get calls from husbands who are trying to talk their wives into going,” Wert said. “And even though we would love to make a booking and a sale, we actually talk them out of it. That’s the fastest way to ruin your marriage, is to get your spouse down there on a false pretense and try to push them into something they’re not ready for.”
Both Beckett and Wert have a process that encourages people to “self-select” in or out; there is no formal application or checklist, but potential attendees are given enough information to know if they’ll be comfortable and enjoy themselves.
“When people ask me, ‘Well, what’s the difference between Hedonism and Desire?’ I say, ‘Desire is a wedding reception and Hedonism is a bachelor party.’ One resort is a little more upscale, with a little better service and a little more sensual; the other is higher energy, a little wilder, and a little crazier.”
To further foster thoughtful self-selection, The Swingset group gets to know each other before the trip. “I don’t screen because I don’t want to be exclusionary. However, I talk about ‘red flag topics’ when we start doing the [pre-trip] chat,” Beckett said. “I let them know you’ll see bi man action, flogging, and fisting on this trip and let people say to themselves, ‘Am I cool with this?’ And, honestly, I hope anyone who won’t get what we’re doing will filter themselves out.”
Beckett emphasizes the most stigmatized activities — even within lifestyle and non-monogamous communities — to make sure everyone who attends can be comfortable being themselves.
“There were a number of bi men on this last trip who didn’t share that they were bi for fear of blowback, so I’m putting it out in the open,” he explained, citing his one unpleasant experience at an adults-only resort.
“Yeah, on our first trip, I got a blowjob from an awesome guy in the hot tub and a drunk woman from outside our group asked him, ‘What’re you, some kinda f- — — — t?’ — which made me up my effort to take over the resort on our trips.”
The Swingset crew seeks to make everyone comfortable — bi men, cross-dressers, and people into BDSM, pegging, and more taboo kinks. Beckett preaches “openness and acceptance” as well as “being genuinely generous with each other.” This year’s trip is called “Choose Your Own Adventure” to emphasize that everyone should make the experience their own, participating where and when they want.
Beckett explained that they even have people come who don’t participate in any of the activities.
“They enjoy the atmosphere of our group,” he explained. “When they come to the [100-person] hot tub, they can just as likely talk Firefly and Doctor Who as mortgages and orgies.”
Wert describes the spectrum of engagement on their trips in a similar way; not everyone who books with Char Travel is looking to date other couples or participate in lifestyle activities. Some just like the social atmosphere and/or the energy of a sexually open and experimental place. The resorts and themed trips are designed to foster exploration and engagement not just through the clothing-optional policies, but because those who attend are social by nature.
In true infomercial form, Wert is more than just an owner, he’s a client. He and his wife, Char, attend the events and go on the trips they organize and book; these days, their biggest challenge is finding time to fit everything into their schedule because of how much they enjoy the folks who frequent the adult vacays.
“You’re actually making long-term friendships and relationships with these people,” he said. “Char and I joke around that we don’t really have any vanilla friends anymore — only because our swinger friends are more fun.”
“Everyone we’ve been involved with are generally just nice people,” said Wert, who has found a business benefit to the sort that book lifestyle vacations. “We don’t get near the amount of complaints that I’m sure a Sandals [type resort] does, and people do need to understand that this is a long-term thing. You’re going to see these people all during the week, and probably back here again on other trips. A lot of our circle, they travel on different trips together.”
Beckett has a significant percentage of repeat attenders. Even though the 2016 trip has reserved the entire Desire resort, it’s nearly half booked 10 months out.
“We have people who have been on all of our trips,” he told me — a bonus for new attendees. “It can seem overwhelming, but I feel like our repeaters are very welcoming. And it’s like having a huge support staff for me, helping the newbies.”
Both Wert and Beckett do have some advice for newcomers to ensure everyone has a great time.
“The first thing I warn about is intensity. This will turn up the heat on your non-monogamy and you can’t just go away,” said Beckett, who makes alone time for himself on every trip to avoid interaction overload. “It forces conversations you may have avoided, or it can present you with things you’re not yet equipped to deal with, with your partner(s) and/or with new connections.”
Wert also lets new clients know that they should remember to care for their spouse/partner they’re traveling with. “People get down there and forget their rules,” he explained — part of which can be related to alcohol consumption. “The resorts are all-inclusive; if you’re there to have a good time, manage your intake and look out for your friends.”
Rules — or boundaries — are important on any trip with a partner, but especially where non-monogamy and clothing-optional environments are concerned. The fear that they’ll be overwhelmed from all sides by people propositioning them is a common new participant concern. Wert reassures clients that it’s like other dating environments, albeit one with potentially more or faster physical encounters.
“This is not a free for all; you don’t just go off into a pile of people,” explained Wert, who uses this line to both reassure reluctant attendees and warn people who seem especially exuberant. “When you’re at a resort, it is like dating and we try and manage their expectations. If you want to meet people, you must be social. You can’t sit there in a chair and expect someone to come up and meet you. You have to get out there and be social and actually put some effort in.”
Beckett also manages expectations and encourages people to consider their boundaries and needs beforehand to see where they and their partner(s) are, both individually and as a couple/group.
“Go in eyes wide open, looking to discover and try new things — and say yes to things!” said Beckett, who tempers that recommendation with consent communication discussion during the trip’s opening welcome kick-off.
“I do talk about being unafraid to say no — and taking ‘maybe . . .’ as a no,” he explained. “Maybe is usually a no from a polite person who’s afraid to say no. So, we talk about making sure to ask before everything.”
All the talk about consent and multiple levels of participation from both Wert and Beckett were reassuring to me as a survivor of sexual assault who is still new-ish to polyamory and definitely new to lifestyle events. Also, the more I hear from other people who, like me, have trouble communicating with sex partners, the more I realize that this is a nearly universal issue that makes the activities designed to encourage “normal” interaction on The Swingset trip really helpful.
“I try to have things like speed dating and cocktail hours that encourage further mixing,” Beckett said. “It’s funny how fast adults can be like high schoolers — myself included. It can seem overwhelming, but I feel like our repeaters are very welcoming.”
He shares the story of a couple who weren’t entirely sure The Swingset trip was for them, but ended up being very glad they went. “They’d never been naked around others, never swung,” Beckett explained. “But they took a deep breath and jumped in. They said it changed their lives.”
Images of Desire resort: Cooper S. Beckett